Lambeth Labour councillors blasted the Green opposition for “not being representative” of their residents after being criticised over equalities targets on Monday (June 15). 

At the first meeting of cabinet since early February, Green Cllr Pete Elliott said the council was failing to achieve equalities targets on “all measures”.  

“With respect to equalities, diversities, and inclusion, on all measures we are not achieving targets and some are getting worse despite the Lambeth equalities commission report in 2017. 

“If we had been actioning more of the recommendations from the report, I suggest that we would be in a much better position now and I’m keen to hear what action cabinet will be taking to address this,” he said.  

The Lambeth equalities commission, set up to tackle inequalities in the borough, published a report in July 2017 with a host of recommendations.  

The commission had gathered information on education and learning, income and employment, participation, decision-making, leadership, as well as crime and justice.  

It found the groups facing the most inequalities were disabled people, Black Caribbean residents, and Portuguese, and Somali nationals.  

Recommendations included making it a priority to close the achievement gaps in schools, Lambeth employers all paying the London Living Wage, ensuring that disabled council employees are supported, and targeting people “furthest from the labour market” with adult learning provision.  

The report also recommended building “on existing work to involve diverse community groups in political leadership, ensuring local councillors are representative of the communities they serve”.  

Cllr Ed Davie, cabinet member for children and young people, said some progress had been made.  

“We’re now 60 per cent a Black and Asian minority ethnic cabinet this evening and 50 per cent female, and [in] our top five per cent of our highest paid local authority staff, we have the highest proportion from BAME background of all of our statistical neighbours.  

“We don’t want to, and wouldn’t be justified on resting on any kind of laurels, but I we have made some progress and that should spur us on to make further progress,” he said.  

Cllr Sonia Winifred asked as to which targets Cllr Elliot was referring and said the council had done “some really positive work” since, with top five per cent BAME earners rising from 23.4 per cent to 35 per cent in 18 months.  

“We’ve put forward so many workshops for our staff, so staff are able to speak openly about discrimination where they find it in the council.  

“We’ve reached a common understanding of institutional racism with our unions, with a ten-point base on where we need to go, so I do believe that we are working full-on to meet the recommendations of the equalities commission,” she said, mentioning the newly launched review of landmarks and statues with links to slavery.   

“As a black woman, and cabinet member for equalities and culture, I’m determined that we will meet those recommendations […],” she added.  

Deputy leader Cllr Jennifer Brathwaite said the Green Party “failed to reflect the community they represent”.  

“As a black councillor I find it really galling when you point the finger to us as a Labour administration, which is in fact very representative, when your party within the council is not representative of the people you purport to represent. 

“We are more than willing to help you make your party members much more representative than it currently is, but in the meantime, we don’t want to take any lessons from a party who themselves have failed to reflect the community they represent,” she said.  

The cabinet met to discuss one item – the budget and performance report for 2019/20. 

The report showed that the number of first-time youth offenders went down – Lambeth’s youth offending team’s performance went from 30th to 18th out of 31 London boroughs.  

The proportion of care leavers aged 19 to 21 in education, employment, and training went from 49.9 per cent to 48.4 per cent, while the percentage of children in care getting their initial health assessment went from green (best) to red (worst).  

The percentage of children having a child protection visit in time went from 65 per cent to 86.22 per cent. 

In her first presentation to cabinet, the new member for finance and performance, Cllr Maria Kay, said that although there was a £12 million overspend in 2019/20, driven mostly by children’s social care placement and pressures on adult social care, “through prudent financial planning, we’ve managed to balance the budget”.  

The report presented was pre-Covid-19 and did not include the financial impact of the pandemic. 

“The pandemic has had a huge impact on our finances.  

“It has required us to spend very significant amounts of money to support the most vulnerable at the same time as we have lost most of our income due to closure of services and reduction in economic activity. 

“In the most recent return to the Government, we estimated that the crisis will cost us £22.7 million in additional spend, and lose us £19.3 million in income in just this financial year,” she said, adding that the figures exclude business rates and council tax collections.  

The leader of the Green opposition, Cllr Jonathan Bartley, criticised the lack of cabinet meetings in the wake of the pandemic and lack of a written report on Covid-19 financial pressures.  

“This is the first cabinet meeting since February 3. 

“That means it’s now over four months without a single meeting of the council’s executive body at a time when some in the borough might think it was needed most,” he said. 

He added that some will see this as a “major failure of political leadership”, while others will “feel the cabinet isn’t really that necessary anyway as it often seems to just rubberstamp without scrutiny”.   

But leader Cllr Jack Hopkins said the council should be “very proud”, listing what had been implemented since the outbreak.  

“I know [Cllr Bartley is] a big process man, I know he sits very well within a bureaucracy, but clearly he doesn’t quite understand that things are not done in meetings,” Cllr Hopkins said.  

The cabinet meeting on the financial strategy for Covid-19 will be held in July.